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Monday 07.30.07

« David Eckard's Liveries (summer stock) at Mark Woolley Gallery | Main | Psst, artists! »

Mark Rothko gets the Schama treatment tonight at 10:00PM Pacific on OPB

Simon Schama's Power of Art series winds up today on OPB with Portland's most famous art world personage, Mark Rothko. Rothko attended Lincoln highschool (as did Matt Groening, Mel Blanc and Elliott Smith... a pretty sarcastic bunch) and had his first solo show at the Portland Art Museum in 1933.

Schama's other programs have been a mixed bag; Van Gogh was a sad dry run for a made for TV movie and Picasso was a boring basic art historical regurgitation but his episode on Bernini was brilliant. His episodes on Rembrandt, Turner and David all offered great scenery and compelling stories that I found inspiring despite the requisite dramatizations.

Rothko is a fitting end to the series and I have no idea whether the program will acknowledge that Rothko grew up in Portland. The effect of Portland's dramatic skies on his sense of color and use of grey are pretty undeniable, yet sadly the biggest gap in PAM's collection is indeed a major Rothko (he is depicted in a Milton Avery in the collection though). We do get see some major loaner Rothkos here from time to time though (like his Homage to Matisse last year). The city was beginning as a sad kind of cultural coma when Rothko left so nobody today questions his decision to leave. Back then you hd to go to New York, these days New Yorkers tend to want to move here. It's very different today and it always strikes me how much Rothko's writings remind me of certain Reed alumni I run into at Portland coffee houses.

HDTV people can see it at 7:00 PM everone else has to wait until 10:00 PM. I know a lot of Portlanders who dont even bother to own TVs so maybe we can all meet at a Pearl District sports bar and do the unthinkable, subject the monday night crowd to cultural programming!

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 30, 2007 at 9:00 | Comments (7)


Elliott with two T's please

Posted by: clarklovins [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 30, 2007 10:05 AM

done... cant wait for the new version of PORT which has spell checking amidst its html editor. Though I don't think it would have caught that.

Still wondering if Schama will just butcher Rothko or do him some justice?

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 30, 2007 10:33 AM

Mark vs. Manhattan: Classic! That one line was worth the whole hour. All in all I thought that the show was pretty good when we were looking at details of Rothko's paintings. The actor had a good resemblance to Rothko but it put the emphasis on his words rather than the paintings.

Did anyone notice that they had to go to the De Menil Houston to look at some good Rothko paintings rather than shooting those scenes in New York? First, they had to go to Houston anyway cause they were going to film in the Chapel but more importantly most of the best Rothko's are outside of New York. Half of the Seagram Murals are at the Tate Modern, the other half in Japan. Quick backstory, a trustee a MOMA, I think it was Philip Johnson in the mid fifties goes to donate a Rothko painting into MOMA's permanent collection and three of the board members resign! They said it wasn't art.

Sadly, no mention of Portland. When Schama taks about his life it is like it is a constant swinging door in and out of New York.

I thought that most of Schama comments on the Rothko paintings were dead on but I think he missed the point on the Chapel paintings. Of course, they are not cheerful! Advertising is cheerful, religous art is not.

I do not know how many PORT readers have been to the chapel but this was my experience. First, if you go to Houston try and see the Chapel at three different times of day because the paintings will be different each time. If you only go in the early to the mid afternoon, you do not see anything because the light is too bright, and in a strange way, it closes off the space of the paintiings. If the light is too bright they read as flat surfaces and you read the facture of the brush strokes which is beautiful but not really the point.

If you go to the Chapel in the early morning or the late afternoon you have an entirely different experience. I think that the painting that sets the tone of the experience of this chapel is the large three panel painting without any rectangles, which is the first painting you see when you walk in.

If you sit in front of this painting in dim light, the surface dissolves and you are sucked back into this deep indeterminate space, like you are literaly floating in space without any stars. You don't see anything, you just float, in empty space forever. And then you lose your breath because it hits you, this is Rothko's depiction of the after life or at least after death anyway. It is the only painting that I have ever seen that actually scared me.

What Rothko is saying is that there is nothing after death, no heaven, no hell, no good, no evil, just nothing and empty space, forever. In a way it is exactly the opposite of every type of human experience, and in that way it is the divine.

Every major religion deals with the question of what happens after death and when Rothko makes these paintings he is dealing with the biggest possible questions. Rothko is not talking about one religion but all religions and he does not illustrate the scene but he allows us to experience it first hand. If you look at picture of heaven or hell, or Jesus, or the buddha or whoever it is always a depiction. A depiction is scene that you can walk away from. A depiciction is something by definition that is outside of yourself. Rothko places you smack in the middle of the afterlife, talk about a religous experience.

Rothko gives you the taste of the afterlife and lets you walk away. Terrifying, exhilarating, potentially soul searching ... There are lots of ways of trying to deal with the experience but Rothko shows what it means to be human and maybe more importantly, what it means to alive.

It like that saying by Nietzsche "And if you gaze to long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 31, 2007 12:13 AM

man, that schama dude is hard core. i love rothko, but that documentary was so over the top i couldn't concentrate on the subject matter. maybe that's the curse of a filmmaker, but more info please, and less melo-docu-drama. dramatic re-creations.... gross!!!

Posted by: matt_mc [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 31, 2007 12:35 AM

I wish Schama would have just let us look at the paintings for an hour with an occassional voice over. On tv, the overall paintings were nice but you got real sense of what Rothko was doing in the details. I can only imagine what that looked liked on HDTV.

An hour of the details of Rothko's paintings might have even been a hit with the tye dye crowd here as well. The docu-draama was a bit over the top.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 31, 2007 09:15 AM

Ditto. Rothko's statements about art are idiotic enough without having to suffer through a Unsolved Mysteries style re-enactments of said statements.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 31, 2007 12:13 PM

Rothko was the anti New York painter in so many ways and I think he probably could have gone the way that Judd and Martin did by leaving the city. But could he have? He certainly needed to rail against certain forces to concentrate his own artistic ambitions and bring them into form. He didnt want to cede anything... even his suicide almost fits.

Also, I think Rothko's statements are noble (in ennui drenched times) ... sure maybe he was reaching beyond what anyone could possibly know, but they remain noble and intelligent none the less.

I appreciate those who want the impossible and Rothko fits that bill.

Rothko had a sense of humor which tempers his ultra-ambitious rhetoric and I think that was missing from this program. It is why I had trouble reading Schama's Rembrant book, Im a historian and there is a really fine line between passionate insight and reaching for dramatic acessory. Schama is well intentioned but tends to reach, especially with the dramatizations of Schama himself... Bah! Id rather that footage were replaced with images of Rothko's shoes laces.

Schama's hammy drama certainly laid it on thick, though I found the episode worth while. Not as good as the Bernini episode but so different from the way other abex painters like Pollock have been portrayed.

I like shows about bookish, cranky intellectuals... especially ones that paint well.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 31, 2007 03:12 PM

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